Conscious sedation is a type of sedation in which the individual can respond to verbal directions, but he or she feels little to no pain and has an altered level of consciousness. It is used for medical procedures in which it is necessary for the patient to be responsive, for minor procedures that do not require the use of general anesthesia, and for procedures involving patients who cannot cooperate with care providers. Like any form of anesthesia and sedation, there are some risks to this form, but it is significantly less dangerous than general anesthesia.
Some common procedures in which conscious sedation might be used include biopsies and minor surgeries, along with dental procedures. This form of dentistry is offered to young children who may have trouble following directions from the dentist and the staff, and to adults who experience significant anxiety about dental appointments. Some offices actively advertise sedation as an option to appeal to patients who dread visits to the dentist.
Patients are carefully reviewed before being selected as candidates for conscious sedation, and the healthcare professional also goes over the risks, advantages, and alternatives with the patient. Once the decision to use it is made, the patient is given sedatives that cause him or her to relax, along with painkillers that are designed to eliminate pain from the procedure. During the period of conscious sedation, an anesthesiologist or certified nurse anesthesiologist monitors the patient at all times, looking at heart rate, breathing, and dissolved oxygen levels in the blood, so that adverse reactions can be quickly identified and addressed.
In some cases, patients are also given drugs that are supposed to help them forget the procedure. Medical procedures can be traumatizing, and these drugs are designed to reduce bad memories that could cause nightmares, panic attacks, and other unpleasant symptoms. After the procedure is over, the patient is taken into recovery and monitored until he or she is fully alert. It usually takes around 48 hours to fully recover from this form of sedation, during which the patient should not drive, make critical decisions, or engage in tasks that require a high level of concentration or fine motor skills.
There are some side effects associated with conscious sedation. Patients can feel nauseous, sometimes vomiting when they wake up, and headaches and a sense of being hung over are common. It is important for patients to drink lots of fluids during recovery and to report any lingering side effects to a medical professional.
In the medical community, there is some debate over conscious sedation. There are concerns that this technique is sometimes used in cases where it is inappropriate, and the drugs must be used very carefully to ensure that the patient is sedated but not unconscious. Organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics have specific guidelines that they recommend to their members, relying on data from studies and reports from medical experts to establish the safest techniques.